John - Interview 34
Age at interview: 40
Age at diagnosis: 37
Brief Outline: John was diagnosed with depression 2008 when he was under immense work stress. He is taking antidepressant medication and undergoing counseling. Since his experience with depression he has changed careers and changed his perspective on life.
Background: John is married with three children. He works part-time as an education officer. Ethnic background' Australian-Chinese.
More about me...
John describes himself as a highly driven, results-oriented ‘Type A’ person. He grew up on a farm but moved interstate when his parents separated when he was 10. The separation and move interstate made him feel vulnerable and isolated, and he dealt with this by achieving high academic and sports results.
John initially worked as a chemical engineer before becoming a pastor. In 2003 when he was 33, he was promoted to senior leader of his church. He was working long hours and completing a Masters degree at the same time, had difficulty sleeping and was becoming ‘trapped in circular thoughts’. He experienced ‘vivid dreams’ and would awake in a sweat. John started to ‘shut down at work’ and felt ‘difficulty processing thoughts’. John became irritable and argumentative at home, and he and his wife considered separation. He experienced suicidal thoughts and was contemplating how to end his life, but make it appear accidental.
After realising how bad things were, John saw a GP who diagnosed him with depression and prescribed antidepressants. He was also referred to a psychologist, but says it took him nearly six months to begin counselling because he worried this might confirm that he was ‘mad.’ He saw the psychologist for a few sessions but then switched to a psychiatrist who he felt understood him better. He describes her as ‘amazing’ in both treating his current depression and helping to deal with issues from his childhood.
As a part of his experience John realised he needed to change his career. He took leave and became a stay-at-home dad. This was helpful for his wife who was also experiencing depression, as it meant she could return to work. John started tomato picking and found he loved the physical work. He also began working part time educating young people about depression. He says these changes have been remarkably transformative. He is learning to live in the moment and be content, and has more time for people. John is religious and says his faith has been tested, but he is evaluating his 'relationship with God'.
John thinks recovery has not been about getting his old life back but realising what he could change to make his life better. His relationship with his wife and children has improved, particularly because he can now spend time with them. John says his plans for the future are fluid, and he hopes to continue to live in the moment and find contentment with the things he has and the people he loves.
In his view, an extremely demanding job triggered Johns depression. He had to revaluate his...
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I was working way too long, I was working way too many hours and I could never leave work. And I suppose being a pastor, a lot of your work revolves around people that you - you live with and are close to and friends and family, you're kind of all in that sort of same environment, so you never quite leave work and I think a lot of that started to take a toll on me.
I suppose the drawback of working so hard was that, whenever I was at home I was kind of still mentally at work and that created a lot of conflict between my wife and I. So I was having difficulties at work and then I was coming home and having difficulties at home. We were arguing a lot, we were fighting a lot, even though when I was physically present I was, you know, I was still checking my e-mails on my handheld, I was still making phone calls, I'm texting people and just trying to get the monkey off the back, just - I think I had this impression that if I could just get- catch up with work everything would be fine, I've just got to catch up, I've just got to clear the backlog.
I remember I had something like 1000 e-mails in my inbox and I just couldn’t clear them. I mean it was just - and then it became paralysing after a while. I was sort of the bunny in the spotlight and I was paralysed by all these things that I had to do. So I wasn't very effective and there was just constant arguing at home, there was chaos at home, I don't think my wife was coping very well either.
John experienced family tensions, sleepless nights and suicidal thoughts.
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Probably when I began to notice that things weren't going well was - I started to have sleepless nights, so I was lying in bed and I was trying to figure out why a particular individual wasn't doing the right thing, or wasn't doing their job, or whatever it might have been and it was kind of like circular thinking, I just couldn’t figure it out. It just made no sense, I couldn’t figure out these problems and I'd just lie in bed all night thinking about them.
The sleep sort of got a bit worse. I started getting these, really vivid dreams. I'd wake up totally drenched in sweat; I'd just wake up totally wet and I'd have to get up out of bed and I'd have to pull the covers back and then I'd sort of go for a walk around the house, get a drink and wait till I'd dried off and then I'd go back to bed. And they - those sorts of dreams stayed with me for years, just really vivid. Not so much nightmares, but just vivid, vivid dreams, and really stressful dreams.
The tension was really, palpable at home and just the sense of conflict and even when we weren’t talking it was passive aggressive, you know? It was just simmering all the time. I got to the point where I just couldn’t manage anymore and I couldn't see any way forward. Everything was just too hard, everything was just too painful, I really wasn’t coping and in my scrambled brain I - I knew that really the only way out of this situation that would be best for my wife and for my family would be for me to suicide, to end my life, because I think- my, my parents separated when I was 10 and I know the impact that that had on me as a child, and I just couldn’t do that to my kids.
Despite suspecting he was experiencing depression, it took John a few months to see his GP, as he...
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So it wasn't until I got on the website that I actually found out what I had' depression and anxiety and - I ended up going to see a doctor. I guess it's the way for most people that you wait until you really hit the wall and it's - your life is falling apart, for you to sort of say, well something must be wrong. And so my marriage was nearly falling apart, my job, I couldn't do that anymore, so that was kind of not going well and - and being suicidal, I went and saw a doctor and I explained to him how I was feeling and, what was going on and he just said straight out, you've got depression and, and I'm prescribing a medication for you which is more on the anxiety side of things.
I reckon it took me about three months before I filled that script. I just - it took me a long time to see a doctor because I didn't want him to actually confirm my worst fears, which was that I would have depression. I mean I'm - I'm in the prime of my life I was doing quite well in terms of my career. I'm married, I've got three kids, I'm financially secure, I'm fit, I'm healthy, and I just thought, I just can't have depression, I just can't. I mean, I don't have any other health issues, I don't, you know - at the time I didn't smoke, drink or - I drink now, but - self medication.
But I just thought, I can't have – I’m, I'm educated, I've always done well career-wise. I couldn't face it, so it took a long time to even see a doctor, but even longer to fill the script. I just couldn’t take pills, I just could not take anti-depressants, I'm just sort - because to me that was like the weakest thing in the world. I just thought, I just must be weak if I've got to take anti-depressants, so there's something that sort of says, you know, just cut it out, just push on, get through, you'll - it'll - you'll get over it, it'll work out. So I kept going.
John felt his highly demanding job was contributing to his depression so resigned to take up...
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So I was kind of looking through the paper at that stage and I decided I'd do a job that was, that I - that would use my strengths, because I really firmly believe that if you're doing a job that uses your strengths and that you're passionate about, you can actually come away energised from it, not weakened by it. And having burned out I think I'm really aware of the things that I'm not that good at, that I used to think I was good at, but I'm not
So I thought it was good and two days a week, so it was ideal and I went in for the interview, I was fortunate enough to get the job and I, I really enjoyed it. Plus I was drawing from my own experience as well. The course was largely around, resilience and preventative stuff, protective factors for, for young people, but at the end of the course it does talk about, getting help if you need it, help seeking behaviour and I was just able to share a little bit from my experience and say, look I was really unwell and, and by this stage the kids had all gotten to know me as, you know, a reasonably strong person and ah, an educated person, a capable person.
And, I, I think my message really impacted them and kind of snuck up on them a little bit too because they see someone who's, just a normal person saying, you know, I got really sick. So I was, I was quite effective at my job and at the end of the three month period (organisation name) was actually able to, find some funding and I was able to continue on in the, family mental health support service.
And I've seen all the reasons why not to stop working, because now I do some, some workplace mental health stuff as well.
And sometimes people can't stay in the same job if it was that job or workplace that made them unwell.
Sometimes they can change roles maybe, move into a different department. But, you know, work's really important because, you've got relationships at work. You've got a sense of purpose at work. Financially you're going to have a lot of worries if you're not working.
So the financial pressure of not working is huge as well. So sometimes that can be restructured. So for me work was, I really think work was, was a big help in getting better. So for me doing the physical stuff was really good. No responsibility, all I am is picking tomatoes, but it was a beautiful green environment.
Fly-fishing and the meditative space this activity provided for John became important for him,...
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So I started fly-fishing and I kind of attribute that to saving my life a bit, because it was that third space where there was no pressure, where I could just think and I could just be and it's kind of meditative as well because you're really focused on what you're doing. It's not like drowning a worm where you can just off with the fairies, you're actually targeting a fish, or watching a fly really closely to see if a fish will take it.
So, that became really important to me and I - and so I actually structure my time so that at least once a week I go fly-fishing, and generally not on the weekend because that's kind of family time, so I don't ever envisage myself going back to work full time.
…and I bought a couple of books from eBay about the Slow Movement and this was really fascinating. This revolution which is pushing back against Western sort of, utilitarianism, you know, life is about achieving stuff and results and material stuff and, you know, advancement and all this sort of stuff. And it's pushing back against that, you know, there's slow food, there's, you know, slow neighbourhoods and all that sort of - and really, and that, that kind of helped me just to slow down and smell the roses.
So I'd, for example, allocate heaps of time to a certain task. So I'd go and do the grocery shopping but I'd have heaps of time to get it done in. So I'd just be wandering about, you know, which is, which is lovely really. I mean, you go shopping if you've got 20 minutes and you've got three kids hanging off your trolley - it's just a nightmare.
John thought it would take a lifetime to find out some of the things he had learned, if he had...
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So I just - I've really checked out of the whole, get more done equals more life idea. I actually think you get more out of life if you get less done, if you're less ambitious, you plan less in a day. I mean you - I really do smell the roses, I mean I genuinely do smell the roses. I move slower, I walk slower, I do everything slower, it's fantastic.
And I've got more time for people, it’s - the irony wasn't lost on me, but after I gave up being a pastor, I actually had more time for people, so, you know, it's really strange because my life was full of just meetings and planning and budgets and events and programs
So, I never wanted to – I actually never wanted to get better and have my old life back. I never wanted to get back to the way things were because I realised that I had to change and, I actually wanted to be better because of depression and so for me recovery, it was, it was a journey that hopefully, ended up with me being a changed person for the better. And I guess they're some of the things that have changed for the better in, in my story.
John talked about the swift transformation he experienced upon starting antidepressants.
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I remember before I started on anti-depressants, it was the school holidays, I'd taken two weeks off work and I went away camping with my wife and another family, and I didn't talk to her for - I think we were camping for a whole week and I didn't talk to her for a whole week. I mean the hostilities were just so intense, the resentment was, just so intense, I just - I just didn’t want to talk to her. And aside from pass the salt, that was about all I said to her for a whole week.
And then I think for whatever reason I just thought, I've just got to try this, I've just got to take these - these anti-depressants and just give it a go and see if it helps. So I filled the script, the doctor said start for the first four or five days on half a dose, which I did and after two days - I think between 24 and 48 hours I felt so different that I rang the doctor and I said, look do I have to go up to a full dose, because this is amazing.
And he said, no not at all, just stay on what you're staying on, it's just that we normally ramp up.
And of course all the literature says, you know, six to eight weeks, or four to six weeks before you get an effect and I got an effect straight away and my wife basically said I became human again, and she said, I could talk to you again, because before that she couldn't talk to me because I'd just explode. And, the amazing - I guess for me medication meant that everything just levelled out.
I mean the downside of it is yeah, you go numb, so you neither feel good nor bad, and if something good happens it's like, wow, that's good, but you don't feel good about it, it's just logically you observe that that is a good thing.
So, I mean that's the downside, but the upside is that for me, I just levelled right out, I became, calm again, peaceful again, I didn't suffer from anxiety anymore and so, ah, I guess I advocate it for people whom it's prescribed for because it just gives you a chance to actually step, step back a little bit from just the frayed edges, the frayed nerves, the kind of - I mean you're on alert all the time, you're on high alert, it's just you're in this high state of alert, the adrenalin's pumping, um.